Ensure USDA maintains current school nutrition standards, rather than implement additional, unachievable rules.
Research shows students eat their healthiest meals at school, thanks to current nutrition standards requiring school meals to include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat milk. In 2023, USDA is expected to propose stricter, long-term nutrition rules. However, school meal programs already face significant challenges maintaining current standards; meeting additional rules is not feasible and could result in fewer students eating school meals.
Persistent national labor shortages and supply chain issues had a lasting impact on the K-12 foodservice industry, limiting manufacturers’ and distributors’ capacity to produce and stock foods that meet highly specialized school nutrition standards. In a recent SNA survey:
- More than 90% of school nutrition directors reported challenges with menu item shortages, discontinued menu items and supply shortages.
- 88.8% struggled to obtain sufficient menu items (e.g. whole-grain, low-sodium, low-fat options) to meet current standards.
- Meanwhile, 92.9% of programs are challenged by staff shortages, which can limit efforts to increase scratch cooking.
Schools already reduced sodium in meals to meet current Target 1 sodium limits; now, programs must make further reductions to meet July 2023 transitional sodium limits. 97.8% of school nutrition directors are concerned about the availability of foods that meet these new limits and are acceptable to students. With no end in sight to supply chain and labor challenges, a majority of respondents also indicated serious concerns about proposals to establish long-term standards that exceed transitional sodium limits (82.8%), mandate that all grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich (60.2%), and limit added sugar (55.5%).
Since schools are the healthiest place children eat, school nutrition professionals work hard to make nutritious meals appealing so students continue consuming them. Frontline school nutrition staff witness food-insecure children who choose not to eat at all if the meal is not familiar or appetizing to them. Cultural and regional preferences often influence students’ willingness to eat healthy school meals. Even the Institute of Medicine warned that meeting later sodium targets “in a way that is well accepted by students will present major challenges and may not be possible.”
To keep students eating healthy school meals, SNA’s 2023 Position Paper supports maintaining current school nutrition standards, rather than implementing additional, unachievable rules.